If there is one spice you should add to your diet, it's turmeric. It's the only spice with curcumin, a compound shown to fight cancer.
Turmeric is an unforgettable spice. Use it once and you'll always remember it's vibrat color (especially if you happen to accidentally get in on your kitchen counter). Indians use turmeric liberally but this spice tends to puzzle Western cooks, something we aim to change. Keep reading to discover the versatility of turmeric, how to use it and why it's considered a superfood.
Believed to have originated in India over 5,000 years ago, turmeric has long been used for cooking and medical purposes, as well as a textile dye. In Hindi, it is called haldi.
Turmeric is the root of the curcuma longa plant. Its flesh has an intense orange color that becomes yellow when dried. It is a spice present in nearly every Indian dish but can impart a medicinal flavour to food when used in large quantities. That's why chefs warn that “you should see it but not taste it.”
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Turmeric is the golden child of Ayurveda, traditional Indian medicine. It is revered for its extensive health benefits that stem from curcumin, the compound responsible for turmeric’s vibrant yellow pigment. Curcumin is a well known for its antiseptic properties and is commonly applied to wounds. Indians also use it in pre-wedding rituals and applied to the face as a mask.
Turmeric was 'discovered' by Marco Polo on his journey to China in 1280, since then it's been hailed as the poor man's saffron. In fact, the only two things the spices have in common is their bright color.
Although it is traditionally found in Indian curries, turmeric features in a variety of American dishes and condiments. Do you find it hard to believe? Turmeric is what colors American processed cheese, mustard, butter, yellow cake mix, popcorn and dozens of other products.
Turmeric is beloved in Iranian cuisine, where it is commonly combined with black pepper, cinnamon and cardamom in a spice mix called advieh. Moroccans also favor the spice and combine it with saffron in harira, a soup eaten at the end of Ramadan. It is one of the spices in the famous mixture called ras-el-hanout.
Of course, turmeric is the responsible for the color of curry powder, a spice mix popular with the British. Turmeric is very popular in Malaysia, where cooks use it to flavor a chicken dish called kapitan. It is used in the Sri Lanka's Colombo powder.
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Most turmeric comes from two places in India: Alleppey and Madras. Although the latter is more famous, you should stick to Alleppey turmeric. This varietal is known to two times as much curcumin (aka cancer fighting ability) than the Madras variety.
In its powder form, turmeric will keep well in an airtight container. As with all spices, be sure to keep it away from heat and light. Fresh turmeric keeps well in the freezer. You can grind it, as needed.
Numerous studies have categorized turmeric as a super food. Indeed, the spice has been lauded for its anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties found in curcumin. It is believed to be a cancer fighter, especially in cancers affecting the digestive system. Turmeric is also used to treat a host of diseases, from respiratory illness to liver troubles and easing arthritis. You can find more information on these scientific studies in the book Healing Spices by Bharat B. Aggarwal, PhD and Debora Yost.